Dr. Renée Pellom: Making An Iconic Mark in Higher Education Accreditation
As we take a moment to close out Women’s History Month, it is important to commemorate the hard-fought victories and accomplished achievements of women over the last several centuries. On this final day of March, let us raise a glass to Dr. Renee Pellom. A leader, mentor and advocate in her field and community, she has made significant contributions to diversity and equity, changing the landscape of educational opportunities for many individuals. With over 25 years of experience under her belt, Dr. Renée Pellom has achieved great success as an executive leader in the U.S. Department of Education-recognized national accrediting agency for career and technical education. Now the Co-Founder of Higher Education Accreditation Consulting, she is renowned for connecting with key stakeholders to ensure institutions comply with accrediting requirements while also cultivating relationships between educational representatives alike.
Dr. Pellom is an inspiration to all those around her– her unwavering strength and perseverance have enabled her to be a role model for so many other women. Let us take this day to honor her accomplishments and honor the legacy she creating that is not only historic but trailblazing to open doors for other minority women. In an interview with Dr. Pellom, she offered insight into the accreditation process, as well as starting her own company.
After 25 years with the Department of Education-Recognized Accreditation Agency, what inspired your decision to become an entrepreneur?
It was a God-inspired idea fueled by circumstance. My previous job relied heavily on my ability to connect and build relationships with many members of the education community. I genuinely enjoyed what I did for a living and, even, thrived doing it because I worked with a multitude of great people inside and outside of the organization. Over time, however, as I climbed into positions of authority and leadership, and as I gained education credentials, some staffers who were in a position to make my work life difficult did just that, simply because they could. I tend not to expend much time and energy discussing the details of my experiences. I’m a Christian and rely heavily on my faith, and this job did not fail to keep me praying! My goal each day was to maintain my integrity, my work ethic, and my cool. While my character was being fully formed and forged through this experience, I was learning how to be a more steadfast walker in the faith and to better trust God to have my back and every other part of me. In the meanwhile, I continued to work with lots of dedicated and amazing colleagues.
When it was time to leave, I moved on to my next chapter. I took all that I learned (and the network of friends I grew over my many years with the agency) and decided to become a consultant in the same field in which I had been working.
There are not many companies like yours and rare as a Black-female-owned one. How does it feel to enter a niche or market that has the ability to shift the culture of educational accreditation?
I knew little about accreditation when I began working in this field. Only a relatively small number of people in the U.S. are or have been employed by an accreditation agency—simply because there are few organizations in existence. With that said, I feel fortunate to be positioned for this type of work. Access to education was a life changer for me. It helped to pull me out of poverty and expand my worldview beyond my rural upbringing. I proudly hail from parents who did not have a school to attend beyond the seventh or eighth grade in the Jim Crow South. I know their experiences of racism and exclusivity have thoroughly informed me and made me particularly sensitive to the need to support education systems that assist all types of people wherever they live.
As consultants, we are at least two degrees of separation from the classroom experience. I call what we do “the invisible work”. The general population does not tend to understand what we do. We, however, have the ability to help an institution navigate the many requirements it must fulfill to maintain compliance with state authorizing agencies and various agencies of oversight. Accreditation is the only gateway to federal student aid and loans, so compliance is key. Simultaneously, our goal is to increase a school’s overall effectiveness in myriad ways beyond mere rule-keeping. We engage in a form of institution-building that has the potential to impact students and staffers, alike, in positive, meaningful ways.
Education is a needed field (at all levels), yet it can come with a lot of “red tape” regarding accreditation. Has your company met any challenges as you are growing? How are you overcoming them?
For some time, our wheelhouse has been primarily career and technical education. We always had the vision to ultimately extend our professional reach into other forms of accreditation and education-related enhancements. My business partner Patrick Rome and I learned early into our venture, however, that other schools and organizations outside the agency we came from needed our expertise. So, we quickly pivoted to expand our mission and our potential customer base. Fortunately, that decision provided us with the opportunity to assist an organization through their reaccreditation process with the International Coaching Federation. I am glad to say that translating ICF policy proved to be a fairly seamless process. We’ve since worked in quick succession to involve ourselves in the work of other agencies and organizations.
Another major challenge is how to ensure that we serve our clients well, while proactively making time to network and stay relevant and aligned with multiple policies. It is a process that we continue to revisit and, hopefully, reimagine. Patrick and I attend accreditation-related training and present at the state agency and other education conferences whenever possible. We have gained certification from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and become affiliates at the organization or individual levels with the Coalition for New York State Career Schools, and the International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training, respectively. We know, however, that we must continue to form allegiances and remain open to learning opportunities however they present themselves.
Deciding to launch a business takes a lot of time and dedication. What steps did you take to ensure your time would yield success?
When I resigned from my position with my previous employer it wasn’t on a whim. My departure was actually several years in the making (please revisit my statement about ongoing, fervent prayer!). As long as I remained there, however, I gave it my all. I cannot underscore the importance of faithfulness to the end, no matter what. Ironically, when I finally left for the next venture, I did not know every detail about the next venture. So, I worked with what I did know. I had financial goals and worked assiduously to save money and pay off debt while still employed. A portion of my timeline overlapped with the pandemic. I understand and honor the reality that many people suffered the loss of their livelihoods or far worse during this difficult time. I was, however, incredibly blessed to work from home, save long-distance commute money and meet many of my financial goals amid all that was going on.
Once I left, I soon formed a business partnership with Patrick Rome, a long-term colleague, and friend whom I knew well. He and I had worked together on many projects, and he came from a tremendously successful background as an entrepreneur, school director, educator, and member of the accreditation agency’s governing board. The timing that brought our partnership together was unexpected, but propitious. Nothing about our working together would have been possible without so many things ultimately falling into place. I’m grateful to God for that!
What do you hope to accomplish in the next 5 years?
We want to be the premiere agency for accreditation consultation, for helping qualified individuals create and open institutions, and for providing an array of quality services to our clientele that places us ahead of our competitors. Fortunately for us, we are connected to so many dedicated, intelligent, hard-working, and dynamic educators and leaders who, in their own right, have done amazing work in their educational fields of endeavor all over the country and world. They’ve already clearly made their marks—making an undeniable positive difference in their communities. We would like to work with some of these people. Our plan is to expand the number of colleagues who work with Higher Education Accreditation Consulting (HEAC) over time.
Additionally, my hope is that our company will be a force for good works, not just in the education arena, but in general. There will always be adults and children who need role models. As the saying goes, “You can’t be it if you can’t see it!”. I hope we will find inroads to ensure there are no degrees of separation between us and those people we can help to encourage. Granted, I don’t know all the particulars of this vision, but whatever it will be, I believe that HEAC can help with that!
What else would you like the readers to know about your business and the importance of what you have to offer clients?
High-end customer service is of utmost importance to HEAC. Our company strives to ensure the correct and timely completion of all projects. We are accessible to our clients and to people, in general, because we genuinely want to support the work of education. Additionally, it is crucial that we deal transparently with others and address everyone with honesty, respect, and dignity as a standard way of living. This philosophy has long been my personal and professional modus operandi.
Among the services we provide, we assist individuals and school staff with self-study preparation, strategic planning, financial analysis, formal documentation review, curriculum development, meeting facilitation, institutional board creation and training, team visit preparation, technical writing, and much more.
Where can people connect with your businesses to learn more about what you do?
You can reach us in the following ways:
Phone: 404.664.3176, 612.703.1517
Email: [email protected]
My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/search/results/all/?fetchDeterministicClustersOnly=false&heroEntityKey=urn%3Ali%3Afsd_profile%3AACoAABjkuJcBvQLiNzitb1Wtil6j2LoOZT88at0&keywords=renee%20d.%20pellom%2C%20ph.d.&origin=RICH_QUERY_SUGGESTION&position=0&searchId=7e582060-388e-4f1d-bee4-5ae3747b3557&sid=-qq